Available for: Android, Microsoft Windows, iOS, Linux
Before I start this, I’d like to mention the fact that before Shadowrun: Dragonfall, I have never played a Shadowrun game in my life and that includes the original tabletop format of the game. If I get any details/lore wrong in this post, please feel free to let me know.
Another cyberpunk game, really? So soon after posting about Dex? Yeah, that really wasn’t on purpose, but it seems that there are certain genres that I’m drawn to. Here’s what caught my attention about Harebrained Schemes’ Shadowrun: Dragonfall (2014) and potentially the series as a whole: it combined the concepts of magic and fantasy races with a not-so-distant future cyberpunk world, but it did so in a really interesting way. It integrates these concepts into our world as we know it, understanding that if we were to wake up tomorrow to magic, elves, orcs, and dragons in our reality, the world would go into chaos. Every aspect of society would be affected by this sudden change in events. The Shadowrun video game series brings the tabletop RPG into video game form, applying the same lore and world-building concepts and allowing a single player to experience them in a different way.
Shadowrun: Dragonfall is Harebrained Schemes’ second independent Shadowrun campaign and is set in Berlin in the year 2054. Your custom character is a shadowrunner, an elite type of mercenary who uses their skill set (magic, fighting, or hacking, etc.) to complete less than legal jobs in the shadows. After arriving in Berlin for unknown reasons, you join up with an old associate, Monika and her team of shadowrunners, and the story begins at the start of what was supposed to be an easy job. The job very quickly goes horribly wrong and after barely getting out alive, you realize that the mission was not all it seemed to be. As it turns out, your team was set up to help find a long missing dragonslayer, who, as his brother accounts, has been obsessed with finding the dragon he supposedly slayed. In a quest for vengeance, you and your team work to find the dragonslayer so that you may defeat the dragon at the root of all problems.
While Shadowrun: Dragonfall is in a video game format, Harebrained Schemes does a good job of still acknowledging the game in its tabletop form. As one would expect, the battle mechanics are turn-based strategy, but other details like character actions and atmospheric narrative are described in second person, reminding you that the video game is not the original medium for this story. It set the tone nicely, especially when you were given dialogue options and could see which ability checks you needed to pass in order to use certain options. In that regard, it was probably as close as you could get to what a tabletop game might look like. The game’s lore is also discussed throughout the narrative as well as suggestions that there is much bigger world to explore than the game allows. However, the latter reminds the player that they are limited by this medium, that they can only explore what the game gives them, as opposed to a tabletop game, where they would be freer to explore the setting. Much of the game plays with the goal of collecting enough money to pay a contact to find the dragonslayer, and many of the paying jobs that you do help to expand upon the lore of the world. Unfortunately, I felt like it was easy for the overarching plot to get lost along the way. You complete a number of missions and companion quests, and while these do hint that the world is bigger than the game can reveal, you could also sometimes forget that this particular story is about finding a dragonslayer and defeating a dragon. This was frustrating because I felt like the plot could have been really interesting in its own right, had it been expanded upon throughout the story.
Something I found to be really interesting while doing some research on this game was the frequent statement of “don’t make deals with a dragon,” which definitely sounded like a mutual understanding amongst players of the game. Being completely new to this world, I definitely wanted to learn more immediately. How exactly do dragons work when integrated with the modern world? There are many suggestions that they have infiltrated some of the most powerful parts of society (governments, corporations, etc.), but how does that work in practice? It was not just the dragons that intrigued me, but also how magic and uses of it continued to be a conflict in society. For example, somewhere along the line, you receive a mission to deal with a company called Aztechnology who deals in blood magic. Every quest provided a different slice of the world and set the stage well, continuously introducing the player to different aspects of Berlin in 2054. It definitely reinforced the fact that there is a lot of content to Shadowrun, but ultimately this game feels like a demo for a much larger campaign. Moreover, while Shadowrun: Dragonfall brings up much of the original game’s lore, without prior understanding of Shadowrun, it might have fallen short of the impact it was supposed to have. In this respect, the game spread itself thin, trying to make as many lore references as it could, but I still felt like some things needed to be given more explanation or to be tied more closely to the overarching plot. Light acknowledgements might work for someone who is familiar with the series, but if someone is using this game as an introduction to the series, it’s easy to get lost in the references.
Shadowrun: Dragonfall was a game I really wanted to love because I’m fascinated by its concept, but ultimately, I felt like I was only given a taste of what the story could have been. I’m still intrigued enough that I would want to play its tabletop version, but it’s unfortunate that the video game wasn’t able to provide a deep dive into the world. I think it would have helped if this game had had some form of codex, something that could provide a basic description of what some of the terms were, for those unfamiliar with the Shadowrun world. I also would have liked to see some of the missions integrated more with the overall plot, at least references back to your main goal. If larger world concepts like Aztechnology are going to be brought up, don’t limit them to a single mission and then never bring them up again, even if it does serve to be just an Easter Egg for series familiars. While I wanted the plot to have a deeper exploration, I really liked the companion characters and seeing their stories fleshed out in the companion quests. I would have liked to have seen a little more closure for them at the end of the story, but the pacing worked well with the narrative. At the end of the day, I did enjoy the game, I just would have liked to have seen it be more approachable for newcomers and more depth in the lore than they discuss.
Now I would like to ask you: have you ever played a Shadowrun game? If so, was it in its tabletop form or as a video game? If you have not, what is your opinion on games that translate a tabletop game into a video game?